How to Read a Fetal Ultrasound Picture

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Ultrasound pictures, also called sonograms, use high frequency sound waves to capture an image of the inside of the body. They are particularly useful in monitoring the health of a fetus during pregnancy, when they are conducted by a professional sonographer. As a parent, there is a lot to learn when looking at these first snapshots of an expected child. Most details can be seen after the first trimester of the pregnancy, including the gender of the fetus.

Determine the orientation of the picture. Ultrasound pictures are either longitudinal or transverse. In a longitudinal image, the mother’s head would be on the left of the picture. In transverse images, the mother’s head would be towards the top of the picture.

Determine the presentation of the fetus based on the orientation of the picture. This is the first thing a trained sonographer looks for when performing an ultrasound, in order to determine if the head of the fetus is towards the cervix or is in a breech position.

Look for the spine of the fetus. This is important for knowing if the fetus is facing left or right, for determining the position of internal organs. For example, a round fluid-filled structure on the bottom left of the fetus would be a stomach, however a similar structure on the top right could be an developmental abnormality.

Look for the head and face. The face of the fetus can be seen quite clearly on an ultrasound. Look for cheeks, eyelids, nose, lips and chin. The ears are also quite distinct, as is hair on the head on late fetuses, if it has developed.

Determine the gender of the fetus. Gender can be easily determined in a fetus from the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy. While it seldom has clinical importance, it is often what parents look for first on an ultrasound picture.

Note the difference between solid and cystic areas of the image. The more solid the tissue is, the whiter it will appear on the ultrasound. Cystic areas are dark, and are mostly water. On an ultrasound picture, bones would be light grey or white, while the placental fluid would be black .

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